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Set Visit Report: Zachary Levi On Playing Shazam!

Shazam! will debut in theaters on April 5, 2019.

“He’s really tall and they have his hair styled to perfection.” Those were my first thoughts when I met with Zachary Levi, who plays the Shazam to Asher Angel’s Billy Batson/Shazam in you guessed it SHAZAM!, the newest film in the DC Extended Universe. Zachary is a film and Broadway actor known for his roles in the action/comedy television series CHUCK, his voice acting as Flynn Ryder in Disney’s TANGLED and most recently as an Asgardian warrior in THOR: THE DARK WORLD and THOR: RAGNAROK.

Shazam! will debut in theaters on April 5, 2019.

Created in 1939 by artist C. C. Beck and writer Bill Parker, Shazam first appeared in Fawcett Comics’ Whiz Comics #2. By saying the world “Shazam,” teenager Billy Batson was transformed into the “world’s mightiest mortal” and given extraordinary abilities by ancient gods.

In the most recent version of the Shazam story from DC, which the film appears to be following, the Wizard (sometimes also referred to as Shazam, later named Mamaragan) is an ancient being and the last surviving member of a council of wizards who must find a champion to battle the evil Black Adam, eventually choosing Billy.

David F. Sandberg is directing for New Line Cinema. Asher Angel is set to star in the film as Billy Batson, with Zachary Levi taking on the titular hero and his alter ego. Mark Strong (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, SpySherlock Holmes) will play the villain, Doctor Sivana. Other cast members include Jack Dylan Grazer, Grace Fulton, Ian Chen and Jovan Armand as Billy’s friends that live in a group home with him.

Apart from being an actor Zachary also owns The Nerd Machine, an online community where nerds and geeks alike can congregate to share and talk about their favorite films, which I’m sure has aided him in preparation for his role as one of the strongest beings in the DC universe both film and comic format.

As someone who’s only knowledge of Shazam comes from a recent binge-watch of the animated series YOUNG JUSTICE, I can admit that I didn’t know much about either Billy or Shazam. But since there wasn’t much time for our interview I decided to ask Zachary about the dichotomy of Shazam and Billy co-existing in the same body.

Carolyn: For Shazam he’s a grown-up child, the adult version of a child who has the wisdom of Solomon.

Zachary: How does that work? [laughs]

Carolyn: Yes how does that work? Because when I think about it, Billy is a kid and one with problems and Solomon was smart but he made some made very bad decisions. He had wisdom but he was still fallible, right?

Zachary: Yeah, yeah just like all those dudes back then in the Bible were fallible. So…that’s an excellent question and it was actually one of the very first questions I asked, in fact, I think I asked David when I camera tested. I didn’t have the job at that point but I was like “How does this whole wisdom of Solomon thing work?” when very much we’re playing it like the fourteen-year-old that’s inside of me.

DC, somebody above my pay grade is gonna be able to answer that question better and you should ask them, but from what I understand, a lot of this really kind of came about when rebooting the character in New 52 right? Because you still see him being that kind of you know, bratty kid inside the adult version, and I think the idea is that in order to make a different and dynamic story there had to have been a little artistic license with the “S” specifically.

The ‘H.A.Z.A.M’ is much more ones and zeroes, turn on, turn off linear kind of stuff and by the way I find it very fascinating that all of the other letters are essentially either gods or demigods and the only one of the letters is a man of God. I thought that was a really interesting thing. But going back to him being fallible at the end of the day I think the idea is to see moments of real wisdom come out of Billy in this grown form that are beyond his years.

Should we get the opportunity to do even more movies you would see him say “Hey let’s do this” and then go “That’s a great idea, how did I even [know]?”, kind of to that effect. Seeing it more of a deep down wisdom as opposed to “I’m an adult now”, which is what a lot of Captain Marvel in the past definitely did, which gives it almost like a totally different entity or person. But, unfortunately, what that does is I think makes him far too much like other characters including Superman. 

I love that they decided to take some artistic license with Solomon because we need characters that complement each other, they can’t all be the same or similar otherwise what are we doing? I love that I get to play the child-like innocence and naiveté while still coming up some wise moves here and there. It’s a far more interesting character to perform and to watch.

Carolyn: I wondered about it because wisdom and common sense are two different things. Commonsense is seeing something hot and knowing “I shouldn’t do that because I’m going to get burned”, but wisdom is “This is why I shouldn’t do this.”

Zachary: Exactly, “This is why you shouldn’t do it.”

Carolyn: Shazam is lighter when you compare him to Batman, Wonder Woman and Aquaman, they have ‘lived experiences’, whereas Shazam is acting as someone who has the experiences of a child being faced with adult situations I think that’s what makes him different to the others too because he doesn’t the same burdens they do. Batman, we know he has issues with women but Diana kind of similar to Billy.

Zachary: Oh she’s very similar.

Carolyn: Yes, because she left her home on Themyscira and is no longer around her family so there are those kinds of similarities.

Zachary: She also hasn’t really had that much experience in the world…

Carolyn: She’s naive.

Carolyn: Dr. Sivana is a villain who had an experience where he could’ve been Shazam, but because his core personality is so dark, it seems that Shazam is a character, a hero that brings out the goodness in you. For instance, there are some powers that exemplify whatever is the worst in you, but for Shazam you have to be good.

Zachary: Well I think obviously that the whole plot is kind of hinged on the idea that Billy Bat is pure of heart, more so than any other candidate the Wizard has seen over millennia right? So that’s a very specific and pure heart Billy Batson has and that means everyone else is just not quite there. It doesn’t mean that they’re necessarily a bad person, it just that they’re falling a little bit short of that and I think that in the case of Dr. Sivana that there is something to be said in that.

I think one of the interesting things in this film is that it’s really talking about two people who both perhaps aren’t even that far apart when they’re children, and what happens when you are dealt some blows when you’re a kid and that also his [Dr. Sivana] heart isn’t quite…cause you see that Dr. Sivana was choosing to go another route. But it’s not just because of the darkness I think of his heart, but also because of the power of the seven deadly sins. So the purity of heart is not just that you like to do good things, but it’s also your ability to resist that which wants to tempt you into doing something that might feel really good, but only for you alone because you’re really doing at the risk of hurting other people.

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